Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 12:00 PM
We've been decrying the dearth of professional ballet in Northeast Ohio for some time now, ever since Ohio Ballet folded in the summer of 2006, but recent developments in the local dance scene and the nature of ballet performance nationwide have rendered a change that we must acknowledge.
Is ballet dead? Nationally and locally that was the question. If ballet's not dead nationally, what - or who - is the next more › big thing? And if ballet isn't dead locally, where's the next professional local ballet company?
All was made clear last Saturday night at the Ohio Theatre where we watched Aszure Barton and Artists perform, a veritable epiphany.
The piece de resistance was Busk, an episodic piece whose world premiere had occurred only last December at the Barishnikov Arts Center. In its music - Gypsy violin by Ljova and the Kontraband and choral music in Swedish - and in much of its costuming, gesture, and set design, Busk evoked street performers, buskers.
In a kind of prologue, Barton herself entered wearing white gloves like a street mime. She performed an eclectic dance that borrowed from mime, among other forms, and referenced street performers.
As her prologue ended, the curtain started to come down; with precise, practiced timing Barton ran and slid under the curtain and waved to the audience from a spotlight on the apron. The gimmick, which brought smiles and applause from the audience, harked back to Barton's teenage years in dance competition and revealed her formula for the rest of Busk: throw the kitchen sink if necessary, but surprise and entertain.
In interviews and press releases, Barton insisted that the title, Busk, referred back to the Spanish word buscar, to seek. Questionable etymology but apparently Barton's way of saying that - episodic and gimmicky though it is - Busk is an inquiry into the nature of performance.
After Barton's prologue, the curtain quickly went back up on the ensemble, only nine dancers in all, dancing in dark coats. Lighting design by Nicole Pearce (who did her undergraduate work in Theatre at Kent State University, where she graduated Cum Laude) suggested rainy streets. Choral music in Swedish provided motivation for the dancers to stand on the little staircase that Barton had entered on and mime multi-part singing. Remember Repertory Project performing Doug Varone's Bench Quartet? This was the same idea on a larger scale. Toward the end of this segment, one of the dancers rode across the stage on a unicycle, another amusing gimmick.
The street choir was followed by one of the men dancing to pizzicato violin, his solo punctuated by mad, cackling laughter.
The hooded ensemble lay down to sleep face down in a pile; the audience chuckled as the sleepers' hips waved side to side.
Temporarily abandoning the premise of here-we-are-on-the-street-sleeping-in-a-pile-to-keep-warm, one of the women - the redhead - entered in white shorts and halter-top and performed a solo full of back bends and splits.
Another acrobatic solo; a mirrored disco ball was lowered from the fly space and lit another solo and an ensemble dance; another white-gloved solo, this one by one of the men; a little juggling; a girl in white danced a solo referencing Dying Swan. As the final curtain came down a single white feather floated down from the fly space.
So, what is the nature of performance, according to Barton and artists? Beyond the continual dialogue between "What can we do next?" and "This will slay 'em!" there was a pervasive sense of energetic fun and lots of delicious, eclectic dancing.
The "delicious" dancing is much harder to talk about than the gimmicks. All Barton's dancers have notable facility and everything they did - no matter how technical or acrobatic, eclectic, idiosyncratic or balletic - everything got tossed off with great energy and finesse and flowed together both technically and choreographically.
The program opened with Les Chambres des Jacques, Jack-in-the-Box, a dance very similar to Busk but - if possible - even more overflowing with energy in its gestures, facial expressions, galumphing folk dance, and ballet steps.
And our epiphany is, the next big thing in the living world of ballet turns out to be - at least some of the time - small. The small company of first-rate dancers is the new performance model, small groups with choreography informed by ballet but not limited to it.
Big ballet companies will continue to exist - probably - and may continue to visit Northeast Ohio - occasionally - but for those like ourselves who need to see artistically adventurous choreography and skilled performers on a regular basis, this may be the year to savor good, small ballet ensembles. Counting Joffrey Ballet at Blossom last August (with 40 dancers that's a big company), and Aszure Barton and Artists last Saturday, DanceCleveland alone offers 4 companies with ballet chops this 2011 – 2012 season, reason enough for us to rejoice.
(Go to http://InbalPinto.com and see video of Oyster, DanceCleveland's next offering. Get tickets and see the whole season at http://DanceCleveland.org/subscriptions.)
Local companies have also stepped up to the plate. GroundWorks Dance Theatre continues to recruit and develop dancers with serious ballet skills. Last summer they pulled off a major programming coup, performing the world premiere of Hindsight by choreographer Lynn Taylor Corbett, fresh from her triumph reviving Seven Deadly Sins for New York City Ballet. (To see our interview with Taylor Corbett click here. Keep up with GroundWorks at http://NotSoObvious.com.)
Also last summer, Verb ballets performed Janis and Joe, not our favorite rock ballet but a showcase for the ballet skills of the Verb dancers, including the women's corps dancing very well en pointe! (To see our interview with choreographer Christopher Fleming click here. See what's next for Verb here.)
Aszure Barton and Artists performed at the Ohio Theatre on Sat 10/29/11 presented by DanceCleveland and Playhouse Square.
Victor Lucas and Elsa Johnson
RELATED COMPANY: Aszure Barton and Artists
Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011 12:00 PM
If modern dance is food for thought then Saturday's performance of Aszure Barton and Artists at the Ohio Theatre was an intimate gourmet feast for a thousand
lovers of the fine arts.
The first number performed was Les Chambres des Jacques (Jack in the Box). This lively upbeat dancing extravaganza featured colorful costuming, vibrant music
and incredible dancing that can best be described as whimsical and athletic.
The piece was originally created for Les more › Ballets Jazz de Montreal with the score of music of Vivaldi and The Cracow Kiezmer Band. This mixture of musical styles
looks strange on paper but worked wonders on the stage. The varied mix of music came from such diverse artists as Gilles Vigneault, Antonio Vivaldi, Les Yeux Noirs and The Cracow Klezmer Band and was arranged by Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin.
To my untrained ear, the music was reminiscent of classical, French folk music, gypsy and blue grass with hints of cajun thrown in. As eclectic a mix as this was,
the dancers were able to keep in complete sync with the various challenging rhythms, moving their bodies as the tempo demanded.
After a short intermission, the troupe returned to perform Busk. The gypsy and choral music interspersed with Swedish chants was the perfect venue for the black clad hooded dancers. The only color on the stage was the
color of their dance which was vibrant.
Clever use of highlight and lighting combined with the faces of the group made for an interesting effect. Juggling and a unicycle added a degree of additional complexity to the number and were greatly appreciated by the
audience. Interspersed among the solo numbers were brilliant vignettes of group dance that also kept the audience visually involved.
Dancers included Aszure Barton (who is also the Artistic Director and Choreographer), Cherice Barton, Tobin Del Cuore, Julia Eichten, Andrew Murdock, Emily Oldak, Christopher Ralph, Donald Sales, Annika Sheaff and Ben
Wardell. Lighting design was by Burke Brown with Original Lighting by Daniel Ranger. The Costume Designer was Fritz Masten. The rest of the 2011 Tour Staff included Rehersal Director Jonathan Emanuell Alsberry, Stage
Director Jenni Bowman, Intern Clea Owens and Travel Coordinator Rosalind Barton.
RELATED COMPANY: Aszure Barton and Artists
Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 12:00 PM
Too many choreographers treat dancers as if they're robots, devoid of life or expression. Not Aszure Barton, who creates works that celebrate human qualities that every performer wishes to share.
Those qualities overflowed in the two pieces that Aszure Barton & Artists presented Saturday at the Ohio Theatre under the auspices of DanceCleveland and PlayhouseSquare. In its Cleveland debut, the New York dance company reveled in its artistic director's compelling amalgam more › of physicality and expressive truth.
It isn't often that an ensemble of dancers is allowed to so openly enjoy what they're performing, but Barton appears to be draw the best from her company by giving them material that communicates on many levels.
The Canadian choreographer does so to exuberant and sensuous effect in "Les Chambres de Jacques," Saturday's opening work, which begins with a male dancer in a long coat exploding in wild, quirky gyrations. He's soon joined by the eight other dancers onstage, dressed in a smorgasbord of contemporary and ballet costumes, who initiate a series of relationships.
The ensemble members engage in solos, duets and other combinations to music of Vivaldi, klezmer and Quebecois folk songs. Using a broad dance vocabulary, Barton keeps the action on fast forward, with the dancers occasionally laughing out loud, while also taking time to concentrate on intimate encounters performed to a sad ballad.
What makes "Les Chambres du Jacques" so enchanting and forceful is the outpouring of feeling Barton extracts from her dancers. There's plenty of whimsy to go around, including acrobatic hijinks, touching (and licking) of faces and a delirious hoedown. But Barton also emphasizes the torrid side of life and those moments when an ideal is unattainable.
The night's other work, "Busk," is another Barton brainstorm full of ingenious physicality and striking imagery. The title comes from the Spanish word "buscar," which translates to seek, and the episodes in this 45-minute narrative suggest the search for meaning, acceptance and fulfillment.
The denizens who take this journey include mimes, street performers, scantily clad maidens and an ensemble in black hoods that huddles together in mock reverence – with heads lit from above – or breaks apart to go thrusting in the air. It's a marvelously atmospheric and theatrical creation set to the gypsy-inflected music of Liova and the Kontraband and sacred choral works.
Typical for Barton, the material is endlessly inventive, intricate, robust and elastic. Dancers flail and soar, ride unicycles and juggle. A red-headed female bends herself in every direction. At the end, another female in white crawls offstage as a white feather drops slowly to the stage.
We may not always know exactly what Barton intends, but the freshness of her vision and polished gusto of her dancers keep our eyes glued to the stage and our minds poised to ponder her dynamic artistry.
RELATED COMPANY: Aszure Barton and Artists
Sunday, October 23rd, 2011 8:00 AM
Dance has been a constant source of family for Aszure Barton, the Canadian choreographer who is in demand in the worlds of modern dance, ballet and theater.
Barton's older sisters are dancers, "so when I came out of the womb I was automatically influenced by them," she said by phone last week from a tour stop in Utah. With her siblings, she invited friends over for the purpose of "building more › community and having a good time performing for parents."
The community that keeps her on her toes – and other parts of the anatomy – most often these days is Aszure Barton & Artists, the admired New York dance company she created in 2002. It makes a stop at the Ohio Theatre in PlayhouseSquare on Saturday to perform two of the choreographer's works under the auspices of DanceCleveland.
Barton, 36, was a teenager studying at the National Ballet School in Toronto when she and a friend talked the director into letting them start a choreographic workshop. After dancing with the National Ballet of Canada for two years, Barton headed to Europe to observe contemporary choreographers.
She danced with Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal as an apprentice before throwing caution to the winds and moving to New York. Amid babysitting and restaurant jobs, Barton met independent choreographers and began to build a community of dancers, visual artists, filmmakers and others, who urged her to start her own company. In 2002, she took the plunge, establishing Aszure Barton & Artists.
"I couldn't be more lucky," she said. "It's always a struggle financially, but that's why I choose to be a project-based company. I can do what I can do, booking dancers for a certain amount of time. I always have a solid base, a core group. The schedule is sometimes kooky, and I'm not employing them year-round. I definitely have to remain flexible."
The repertoire her company of 10 dancers – including her sister, Cherice – will perform this week in Cleveland reflects Barton's flexibility. To devise "Les Chambres de Jacques" (The Rooms of Jacques), the choreographer created simple tasks for the dancers and devised a series of pieces based on their personal experiences. It is set to French Quebecois folk music, klezmer and Vivaldi.
The work is "an overall picture of things that manifest in the heart," Barton said. "The capacity in which we can love is the bigger picture, and how it can enlighten and destroy, but in a bright way. It's super fun."
Barton explores the place of performers in the world in "Busk," whose title is drawn from the Spanish word "buscar," which means "to seek." The piece, danced to music by Lev Zhurbin, Moondog and Swedish choral works, came to life while Barton's company was working in Santa Barbara on a co-commission for DANCEworks, the Baryshnikov Arts Center and the Banff Centre.
"I was struck by the social differences," said Barton. "[Santa Barbara] is so vibrant and there's so much wealth, but there's also a surprising and startling amount of street life. The environment definitely affects the work. Where do we fit into this picture? I've seen beautiful people performing on the street."
Barton has made pieces for everyone from dance icons to theater and pop-music stars. She created "Come In" in 2007 for Mikhail Baryshnikov, her mentor, and 13 young dancers. A year before, she choreographed the Broadway production of "The Threepenny Opera" at Studio 54 featuring Alan Cumming, Cyndi Laufer, Jim Dale and an ensemble of drag queens.
"They were such an eclectic and interesting group of people," Barton said. "It was a wonderful, crazy experience."
RELATED COMPANY: Aszure Barton and Artists
Wednesday, October 19th, 2011 12:00 PM
Don't miss your chance to learn from innovative choreographer Aszure Barton!
Aszure Barton Master Class
Saturday, October 29th
Green Rehearsal Hall
DANCECleveland and PlayhouseSquare invite pre-professional and professional dancers to a free contemporary technique master class led by Aszure Barton and Artists.
About Aszure Barton: Mikhail Baryshnikov protégé Aszure Barton has a distinguished reputation for producing striking choreography for stage and film. Barton has developed highly regarded productions on four continents. She has more › performed with many celebrated artists and companies and has created works for Baryshnikov, The National Ballet of Canada, Nederlands Dans Theater, American Ballet Theatre, Sydney Dance Company, The Martha Graham Dance Company and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, where she was the resident choreographer from 2005 to 2008.
Space is limited!
Class runs from 11:00am - 12:30pm. Please arrive no later than 10:45am.
RSVP to Lynn Deering at email@example.com
Enter through the State Theatre Stage Door, 1650 Chester Ave., Cleveland, Ohio 44114
The entrance faces the Hermit Club and is across the street from the Greyhound Bus Station parking lot.
About the Company: Aszure Barton and Artists make their Ohio debut on Saturday, October 29 at 8:00pm at the Ohio Theatre at PlayhouseSquare. The company will perform Les Chambres des Jacques (Jack in the Box). Originally created for Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, it is a work full of surprise and humor danced to the music of Vivaldi and The Cracow Klezmer Band. They will also perform Barton's critically-acclaimed Busk, a fascinating work that explores aspects of what it means to perform. Set to thrilling Gypsy and choral music, Busk features engaging solos contrasted with powerful, unison group dance. Busk combines street performers with hooded monks, Swedish chants and acrobatics to create a witty, lively, highly original evening of dance.
Tickets are still available at playhousesquare.org or 216-241-6000. For more info, visit dancecleveland.org.